“Hey. Sorry i’m late.” His voice was apologetic, but his face was happy.
She shrugged, it made no difference at all, he was there. “No big deal. I knew you were coming.” She said quietly.
He nodded and smiled widely at her before leaning in to kiss her.
She nodded as she exited the room and joined him in the hallway now, pulling the door closed tightly behind her.
The two of them were quiet as they made their way down the hall to the back stairwell.
They hurried down the stairs and ended up in a long, empty corridor. “I scoped this earlier,” he explained as she looked to him for their next move. She followed him for a hundred yards or so to a door that lead to the loading dock. A few hotel workers were lingering there, smoking and talking. They barely paid any attention to Nick and Coll’s arrival on the scene. Nick took her hand as they walked up the loading dock to the street.
“I like this hiding in plain sight thing you’re doing.”
“Hope for the best.” He said. “By the way you look really nice.”
“Thanks,” She said, blushing. “… but, nice?”
“What’s wrong with nice?!” He exclaimed as they arrived at a corner.
“Three people worked on this look, Nick. Dig deeper.” She teased, thinking back to the earlier part of the day when Andrea brought out three dresses, four tops and two skirts and Angela talked through each option extensively.
“Wait,” He began, “Three people know we went out?”
“No. No one knows anything.” She said. He looked confused. “You know every single article of clothing I have right now. And I figured jeans, a tee shirt and flip flops wasn’t exactly the right thing for wherever it is we are going.” She began, “And i knew you didn’t want me to tell anyone.” She smirked, “So this morning I started talking up Andrea and Angela about going out tonight…” her eyes were wide recalling the steps she took, “it was stunningly simple. They basically took it from there. They dressed me up themselves. Look at these shoes! All of this is Andrea’s.” She smiled. She loved the ensemble Andrea had lent her, and it fit her surprisingly well. “Anyway as we were finishing up getting ready I basically told them I wasn’t feeling so well.”
“Seriously?” He smiled.
“Yeah.” She laughed, “I didn’t really have a lot of options. I wanted to just ask someone if I could borrow something but that would have lead to a lot of questions and any of those answers would have blown our cover. So short of going out and buying something, I had to get creative.”
“So then what?”
“I had to sort of ease into it though, I dropped a few hints earlier in the day, so it wouldn’t be like totally out of left field.” She laughed, “They got all big sister on me immediately. I think they were worried about Leighanne, actually, because of her birthday spa day tomorrow. I don’t know, but they got really concerned, real fast. I had to talk Angela out of asking the kitchen to make me chicken soup. She brought me to my room and asked me a hundred questions about if I need anything and…” Coll shook her head laughing at the memory, “Anyway she is crazy. Amazingly caring, and crazy.”
Nick laughed, “Oh my god.”
“I’m surprised they fell for it. But I did have to dry heave a little...” She wrinkled her nose, “for emphasis.”
“You did all of that?” He laughed.
“Yeah. I’m a very dedicated actress apparently… So if anyone asks, I was sick all night.”
“Yeah, so now we both have some skin in this game.” Coll giggled.
“Well, I appreciate that.”
She shrugged, “I was happy to do it.” She turned her head to face him and he remembered what started the whole conversation.
“Alright so you look way better than nice I just-“ He paused, looking at her, “I-”
“What?” She asked, searching his face.
“You look incredible.”
Everything he did was chiseling away her stability of not telling him explicitly how she felt … every time he looked at her, kissed her, said or did something amazing … the platform was compromised. She started to teeter.
She laughed it off, “I was teasing you. But thank you.”
“I like your hair up like that. It’s fun.”
Andrea had given Coll a high ponytail, a bit of teasing at the base made it “party perfect” as she called it. When Angela insisted that Coll lay down and relax later in the evening though, it was moderately compromised.
“Oh, yeah. It is kind of fun.” She responded happily. “So where are we going?”
“I made a reservation.” He said shyly, but she almost didn’t catch it.
Her eyes widened at him, “Oh. Wow. Fancy.”
“Is that okay?” He asked nervously, “You said you hadn’t been on a date in months.”
She looked at him, taken aback, slowing down her walking pace involuntarily, “This is a date?”
“Do you want it to be?” He asked nervously.
“Do you?” She asked with the same nervous tint to her tone. “Sorry that was dumb, obviously you do- or you must, or-” She stopped herself before she could ramble any more.
“I mean… Yeah. I do.“
her cheeks were turning red and her eyes were all dark and mysterious again. “Me too.”
He smiled and hung his head briefly. “I should have asked you more specifically maybe.”
“What? No. No it-“ She shook her head, not even sure what she was trying to say, “it’s fine.”
“Let me do it now.”
“No, it’s re-“
“No, come on I want to.” He was smiling and perfect and destroying her.
“Okay.” She relented with a deep inhale, “I did dry heave for this.”
“Alright.” He said and licked his lips. The two of them were standing in the middle of the sidewalk now, facing each other as life went on around them. “Colleen,”
She smiled, “Yes, Nickolas.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
She pretended to think about it, “I have no plans actually.”
“Would you like to have dinner with me?” He asked with laughter in his voice.
She tilted her head at him, “dinner?” She asked. “Sure we can eat dinner together.”
“No I mean...” he looked at her and she was smirking, teasing him, pushing him. “I mean I want to take you to dinner.”
“Ahh.” She said, “you want to take me to dinner.”
“In a car? Or…?” She knew he could do better than this.
He blushed, “I want to take you out for dinner, on a date.”
Her legs felt weak as he spoke to her, “Ohh I see.” She giggled. “That’s nice… that you want that.”
He understood what she was doing, and he wanted to get it right. He wanted to impress her or at least satisfy her.
“Can I- or, would you like to go on a date tonight? For dinner… with me?”
Her heart was racing and she loved him even more than she had just seconds before. “I would love that.”
So in love with youHe still had her hand in his, his eyes were bright and he was laughing lightly. He pulled her in closer to him and slipped his arm around her waist. “I can work on that...for the future.”
The abstract future had come into fantastical focus a few times in the past week and it all felt much too amazing to get attached to, but she couldn’t help it, his presence in her future was quickly becoming one of her top concerns in life. She latched on to any fragment or shred of hope for how that might be.
She relaxed into him, watching as his face changed from happy and bright to slightly more serious. He leaned in and kissed her softly.
She was teetering again but as usual, he caught her. Restoring stability in her certain uncertainty - he was in it with her.
When they arrived at the destination, they both looked at each other, concerned.
“Well this isn’t what I was expecting.” Nick said quickly.
Coll laughed, “It’s not?”
“You weren’t expecting a senior citizen convention?” She said quietly.
He laughed nervously and ran his hand through his hair. “No, I…”
He scanned the restaurant, older couples or smaller groups of older people were scattered throughout, there were no other young people at all. Shit. “Let’s go somewhere else.” He said quickly.
“Wait, no.” Coll smiled, grabbing his arm as he turned to leave. “Wait. Okay, I know that It’s not our usual scene but, let’s stay.” She suggested, “That might be a good thing for you. The chances of you being recognized here are incredibly low.”
“So really, that’s excellent.” She tilted her head at him and couldn’t disagree. “Let’s stay.”
“Are you sure? We could definitely find something more… upbeat.”
Coll looked around again, taking in the scene. “Look, the bar is totally empty, let’s get a drink and see how we feel after that.”
He agreed and they bypassed the hostess stand and went to the bar. They settled in at two plush bar stools and Coll tucked the small crossbody bag Andrea had lent her away on a small hook under the bar.
“Is that Andrea’s too?” Nick asked.
“Yes.” She rolled her eyes, “So how were all the things you did today? Did they ask you anything more interesting than the usual?”
He smiled to himself, looking away from her briefly. “Not really anything new. We did some a cappella though.”
She nodded, “Nice.”
“Thanks. But… nice?” He said, mocking what she had said earlier. “Five people worked on that song... dig deeper.” He laughed.
She laughed, tilting her head back, “Sorry, I know. That’s better than nice. It’s awesome you guys can do that so well.” She explained and popped a cocktail menu open. “I walked right into that though…”
He nodded, still laughing lightly at her, watching as she flipped a couple pages past the beers. She lifted her eyes from the menu and he was looking at her, smiling.
“What?” She asked.
“Nothing.” He shook his head, smirking at her and casually reaching for another menu.
She bit her lip as she returned her attention to pretending she cared what the menu said. She could barely read it anyway. It means something.
They made small talk, placed a drink order, and found various excuses for body contact as they sat for a while at the bar together. Despite the place having an older atmosphere than they had expected, it was beautiful and the vibe was enjoyable.
“Can I ask you something?” Coll asked as she spun the liquid around in her glass, looking up from it to him.
“You just did,” he laughed.
She tilted her head at him. “Oh you’re so funny.” She said sarcastically.
“Go for it.”
The way he looked at her made her weak, she desperately wanted to ask him so many things, but she stuck with the original plan.
“Why are you shy around me sometimes?“
“Yeah.” She leaned into the bar on her elbow, placing her hand behind her neck. “Like, you go out on stage every night and you’re …” She trailed off, “You know…” She laughed.
“What?! I’m what?!”
“You know…” She smiled. “I just mean like, sometimes you … start to say something and then, you don’t. Or, you stop short.” She explained, “Not just with saying things…” her mind tripped over the memory of him pulling her tank top off, and leaving her that way. Even though every inch of her skin was craving for more of his touch, more exposure to him. It still was.
She knew she had set herself up for him to call her out, too, but he didn’t. “I guess i don’t want to say … or do … anything I'm not sure about.” He couldn’t lie to her. He looked back at his drink, “That’s not a problem on stage.”
She lifted her glass again, looking at him in the process. Before she could comment back on it, the bartender arrived with another round of drinks and two plates of tapas that they didn’t order.
He began speaking to them about each dish and they looked on with interest but had no idea what he had said.
”Well then.” Nick stated with a smile as the man walked away and shuffled back into his work.
“I caught like four words of that actually.” Coll said proudly.
“Not enough to really understand anything but, yeah.” She giggled. “Becka speaks Spanish sometimes… I’ve picked some up along the way.”
“Did I know that?”
Coll shrugged, “Maybe?”
“What part of it did you catch?”
“Spicy.” She began. “And tomato.” She giggled. “He also said ‘enjoy’ and ‘hot’ but…”
“Spicy tomato. Okay...” he grinned, “when Becka speaks Spanish she talks about spicy tomatoes?”
She laughed, “Not usually… then again I guess I wouldn’t know..."
“Is she fluent?”
“No, she used to know more. Now she mostly only speaks it for fun, to impress people… or try to. Or when she’s emotional.”
Nick nodded, “An emotional woman speaking another language… every man’s dream.”
“Not every man but certainly there is one.” She mused, “Maybe it won’t be ‘another’ language for him.”
“Is she dating anyone?”
Coll shook her head no, “She’s complicated. You know…”
He nodded, understanding, as he reached to the plate.
“Whatever this spicy tomato thing is looks good at least.”
The bartender seemed to have a thing for providing tapas without invitation, but then indulged him by enjoying another two plates that he put in front of them.
“I have no idea what eighty percent of that was but it was delicious.”
“Are you sure you want to be here?” Nick asked as he leaned in closer to her, sliding his hand over the smooth wood of the bar. Coll looked at him and they both started laughing.
“Is that your way of saying you want to leave?”
They were both laughing about it when an older woman and her husband approached, without any small talk the woman began speaking, directly to Coll.
“Your husband looks just like my husband did a hundred years ago.” She explained with a heavy accent and a smile as she nodded enthusiastically, placing her hand gently on Coll’s arm.
Coll looked at Nick briefly and smiled, “Oh he’s not my -“
“We couldn’t help but notice how in love you two are. So nice. Reminded us of us, a hundred years ago.”
Her body stiffened and she felt a physical chill.
“You’ll still be in love a hundred years from now.” The woman winked at Coll and squeezed her wrist gently as she walked off. The husband followed behind, nodding an acknowledgment at Nick and then at Coll as he passed.
Coll looked at Nick, his face telling a story she couldn’t decipher and they both started talking at the same time, nervously trying to navigate the awkwardness.
“Well that was sweet.”
“Gotta love old folks.”
She smiled, unsure what he meant by what he said. She took another sip of her drink and looked over her shoulder to see the woman exiting the restaurant with her husband’s hand on the small of her back. She could tell.
They were both quiet for a moment, lost in their own thoughts.
“I think you’re right. We should go.” She said as she leaned in closer to him.
Her eyes were dark and mysterious and he nodded without hesitation.
“Where though?” He asked. He had planned on them lingering over dinner for a while and he had a few places plotted out that they could potentially pop into afterward depending on the mood but he wasn’t feeling particularly confident in any of them so he pretended that part of his plan didn’t exist.
She shrugged slowly, taking a long final sip of her drink.
“Somewhere no one else would be.” She said quietly.
“Does that exist?”
“... it does in Boston.”
“Come visit me and I’ll show you.” She said decisively, putting her glass back on the bar.
He watched her as she grabbed Andrea’s bag from the bar hook and swung her legs around the stool and slid off. He quickly threw a few big bills, far more than necessary, on the bar and she took his hand. They walked back to the elevator atrium in relative silence.
“I really wanted to take you on a date.” Nick said as they landed in the atrium.
She felt dizzy, spinning around on her wildly compromised platform.
“You are.” She giggled, “Right now.”
“Like a real date. Because now how is it any different than London?”
“London was fun,”
“But we weren’t on a date.”
“Maybe we were.” She said casually as she hit the button for the elevator. He watched her moving: confident and graceful and perfect. There were so many things he wanted to say but couldn’t. Another missed opportunity.
It made his chest ache, like he wasn’t good enough for her.
“We are out, Billy isn’t with us, no one knows we are gone… and we’re together. Everything you wanted.” She said as she turned back to face him, swinging her arms over his shoulders, “We can just meander around until we find … whatever we want. It’ll be fun.” Her smile was so genuine, she was so easily able to flow around whatever he was doing. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw - or made - anyone else smile like that. The fear of messing any part of this up was sparking up inside again, he took a deep breath to simmer it.
She was standing in front of him and he focused his attention on that. She was there, her arms around his neck, smiling at him … he saw it again: everything she was, everything he wanted. He opened his mouth to speak as the elevator came. She smiled at him and backed slowly into the open elevator. “Don’t be upset. come on.”
She didn’t know what he was thinking, or why he seemed convinced this wasn’t a date but she certainly hoped and felt like it was.
He followed her out of the elevator and onto the street where they walked for a while, taking turns without direction, just following the quiet.
“It’s fun to sneak away.” She said quietly as he smiled at her.
He pulled her in closer, danced her into a turn, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, he kissed her and she pressed her forehead into his, “You’re cute.” She said as he put his lips on hers again.
She felt the purest happiness she had ever experienced. She desperately wanted to hear him say other amazing things to her, even though it compromised her stability. It was worth the risk of falling not just into him but completely- toppling over into new territory. Tell me.
He put his hand on her neck and kissed her deeply.
It was still an absurd reality to him- that she was the one he was kissing, that he wanted to kiss her so often, and right now especially, the fact that he felt like he let her down. He hadn’t felt humbled like that before with anyone but he didn’t want to run from it, he wanted to fix it, he wanted to do better for her. He had to do better.
He felt stabilized by her - but he was constantly questioning how she might be feeling about him.
The words almost fell out of his mouth in that moment, he almost said it. He got so close again. He almost told her, “Colleen I’m in love with you.” But he didn’t. His mind went into overdrive. He had to do better for her. He needed to know if she could trust him. He knew that much. Before he could go anywhere else with her, before he could tell her anything more serious. Before he let himself fall any deeper into her, he needed to know.
She took his hand again and they continued walking slowly through the night.
After a while they were walking along the river, the night air was hazy around them and they found a bench to sit on.
“This is perfect.” She said happily as they sat.